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In search of the perfect buzz

Despite calls for moderation, UCSD’s Sun God Festival turns deadly

Sun God fest 2009
  • Sun God fest 2009
  • Image from Wikipedia

Based on the legend built by real estate mogul Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego in cahoots with UCSD’s PR department, the university is a happy, well-heeled place, full of high-tech researchers spinning off reams of cell-phone and pharmaceutical inventions sure to warm the hearts of wealthy La Jolla venture capitalists.

But crime reports issued by UCSD campus police, now being posted online, present a darkly different portrait.

To the average UCSD cop on the beat, the university has become a microcosm of the more questionable aspects of life in profit-driven academia, including drug abuse and booze overdoses.

It isn't just the school's Sun God festival, a rock-and-roll blowout held every May that has been troubled by drugs, death, and alcohol overdoses, though that has caused plenty of grief.

A few hours after the latest Sun God debauch, Ricardo “Ricky” Ambriz, a third-year Revelle College student majoring in computer science, was found dead in his Village East Tower dorm room. The case remains under investigation, according to the county medical examiner's office.

The May 17 crime report filed by campus police said the 1:23 a.m. incident involved a "subject who was non‐responsive," and added, "subject was transported to Scripps Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced deceased."

In a separate incident at 5:49 the same morning, campus cops said they "found [a] controlled narcotics substance" at Village East, which was impounded. At 11:09 p.m., a "drunk in public" at the school's Price Center was "transported to hospital." Another public intoxication case at 11:03 that evening resulted in "2 transported to Detox."

The day of Sun God, Friday, May 16, was even busier for police.

At 1:06 that morning a student was arrested for driving while intoxicated. At 3:49, a "public intoxication" case was "transported to detox." At 9:30 a.m., a field interview was conducted of a "group of subjects possibly smoking marijuana."

At 1:43 in the afternoon, a student was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. At 3:10, a case of "excessive alcohol" was "transported to hospital." Medics handled a “drunk in public” at 3:35. Another case of overindulgence was "transported to detox" at 4:17.

In a 4:26 public intoxication case, cops investigated a "subject(s) friends attempting to keep from driving." Two more transportations to detox were made at 4:30.

A "referral to medical aid" was made regarding a case of "excessive alcohol" at 4:42. A similar case was "transported to hospital" at 4:45. An adult student was busted for drunk and disorderly conduct at 4:45.

At 4:48, another "transportation to detox”; at 5 o'clock, another drunk was taken to a hospital. Between 5:10 and 5:30, there were five more cases of transportation to detox.

A 5:27 incident involving a "subject covered in blood" who "was found to be bleeding from cut on ear," ended in a student arrested for being "under [the] influence of a controlled substance."

At 5:30, a "disorderly conduct: alcohol" arrest was made. The same thing happened at 5:40. Between 5:45 and 6:28, ten cases were taken to detox.

Medical aid referrals included someone who was "drinking, [and] breathing but unresponsive."

And so the list of police reports continued through midnight.

Dr. Kim Fromme of University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Kim Fromme of University of Texas at Austin

After local hospitals, worried about the high number of alcohol poison cases flooding emergency rooms, demanded that UCSD clean up its Sun God act in 2013, the university formed a task force and hired Dr. Kim Fromme, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin to advise it.

Among the ideas to get UCSD students to cut down on their drinking: don’t use “scare tactics” because “they do not work (e.g., crash scenes).” Instead, the university could “saturate” the campus with, among other things, “‘Perfect buzz’ info (if one drinks, how to drink to a buzz but not drunkenness).”

The school also looked to San Diego State, long a famous party school, for examples.

"San Diego State University used to have significant issues related to overconsumption of alcohol on its campus," the report said.

"Over the past couple of years, they have focused on maximum enforcement of campus policies at the beginning of the year to let students know that policies will be enforced.

“This policy has led to a decrease in alcohol abuse and the health and safety risks associated with it. We recommend analyzing whether such a strategy would be effective here at UC San Diego.”

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